My wave… Mine, mine, mine!

It is my firm belief that no one takes off in front of someone he has respect for.
A firm belief, with some exceptions. Kooks, heads down, reciting some mantra like, “Paddle like you mean it!” are not disrespectful, merely kooks. One recent kook-drop, wave-sharer had my wave partner, at the end of the ride, turn to me and say, “Epic!”
It was a small wave, but did go on a ways.
“Really?” I said, rather than, “Oh, and I was even closer to the curl. Wow! Double Epic”
I forgave him because I was once exactly that guy. Let me apologize now for all the rides I ruined at Swamis and Tamarack, my head down, paddling, paddling.
Then, of course; there are waves shared with friends. I’m thinking of my old friend, Ray Hicks, at Pipes, and my nephew, Dylan, at La Jolla Shores; each evidently thinking I was acting as a blocker for them, clearing a wave of other surfers. If so, I forgive them, too. Maybe they thought wave-sharing brought us closer. “Um, uh, sure.”
And then there are the accidental snakings. Perhaps Jeff Parrish’s friend, also named Jeff, who, to avoid confusion, and because he has a bald head, I called “Wienerhead” (he claimed not to mind- but, evidently, did): just didn’t see me at Westport, didn’t believe I could have surfed that far across the wave, coming up behind him, yelling “Waikiki!”
Try it; it’s better than whistling or yelling, “Mine, mine, all mine!”
I may have actually said this out loud. I’ve always thought it.
The truth is I’ve been snaked on a very small percentage of the waves I’ve ridden. This is perhaps because I’m a large person. I have tried hard to (mostly) ride waves I’ve earned by being in the right place, closer to the peak, a bit farther out.
Closer to the truth, I generally prowl the inside, catch waves others have missed, or mis-timed, or wiped out on, or can’t actually make.
Sometimes I’m wrong about whether the PRIORITY SURFER could make the section, but nothing is more wasteful than giving-way, seeing the surfer fall or get eaten by the section and ‘your’ wave peel off perfectly empty.
Yes, I’m a recidivist, a shoulder-hopping repeat offender, willing to get caught inside a few times, somewhat casually (usually) avoiding surfers on waves. During one fairly recent session at a fairly crowded reef break I caught eight waves (no snaking) before I actually made it all the way out to the lineup.
When one wave snuck past the bobbers outside, a woman named Trina, freshly back from Australia, looked at the wave, looked at me, said, “If no one else wants it, I’ll take it.”
I wanted it, but gave her the nod.
When I came in, Tugboat Bill said, “I see what you’re doing, how you get so many waves.” Busted.
THE LINEUP: The waves line up, the surfers wait in some semblance of a line. I guess in some perfect scenario, surfers take turns, rotate in. I sort of understand the system. Still, as my crowd-savvy friend Ray says, “The best surfer out always gets the best waves.”
Aggression plays some role. It’s only in my older incarnation that I probably wouldn’t brazenly paddle to the best lineup spot (lineup as in wave, not surfers in line), maybe even sit just inside of somebody waiting for the perfect set wave.
“How’s it going?”
I do tend to keep, in some specific mind folder, a record of most of the waves on which someone felt it necessary to take off in front of me. There was this guy at Lower Trestles who seemed to think I had chosen the best waves. I was working up the hill, parking on the beach, and usually extended my half hour lunch to an hour and a half, work to work. I cruised back down a couple of hours later for a look-see at coffee break time (it was a government job and the statute of limitations has long ago expired) and this guy was still out, going full bore, surfing like he’d be shipping out to some war zone the next day. That may well be true. Still, he was also still shoulder-hopping others. And not just snaking, but fading.
FADING: This is the more anti-social form of shoulder-hopping; forcing the actual Priority Surfer far enough into the peak or up the wall to guarantee he won’t make it; the trick being timing the act so you, the Fader, still makes the wave.
The fade, rather than the more usual tactic of wailing down the line, hoping the surfer behind you falls naturally or doesn’t make the section. Then you can do a big cutback or something on your wave.
The fade is always on purpose. The act itself saying, “Mine, mine, mine!”
So, WARREN BOLSTER, Swamis: The famous photographer seemed to feel totally justified as we both paddled hard for the same wave. I didn’t give way. I was closer to the peak, he forced me closer. We took off at the same time dropped, turned, moved up into trim. He did a little stall… the lip hit me, and he rode on.
At the time I thought he’d probably built up a bit of frustration (or inspiration) taking photos of others and wanted to maximize his surfing time.
Understandable. I mean, I get that; not that it’s justification.
When I read, years later, that the photographer whose skateboarding photos had helped push the rebirth of that sport had taken his own life, I wondered about whether there was some karmic buildup of the negative aggression. I have no way of really knowing, but, if some surfers somewhere recall with some nostalgia how they were pushed off a wave by Miki Dora, I was, at least, faded (brilliantly) by Mr. Bolster, may he rest in peace.
CRYSTAL PIER, 1973: It would be nice to think I was just blissfully unaware of what a wave hog I used to be. I was, I swear, until I was enlightened. Partway through an afternoon session, sitting on the outside in a pack, always scanning left and right, checking my position, a kneeboarder looked over at me and actually spoke.
With the city surf spot ghetto mentality (“Don’t look them in the eyes”) in full force, this was kind of unusual. “Why don’t you let someone else have a wave?”
I had, honestly, never considered it.
“Sure.” I meant the waves between mine.
Another afternoon session at CRYSTAL PIER: The waves were all pretty unmakeable. The extreme angle of the swell tended to make them rights, but not makeable rights. Pretty much any place you took off gave you a chance to haul ass down the line until the wave closed out.
So, I took off in front of some guy who, though he couldn’t make the wave, thought he could. So, leashless, he shot his board ahead in the curl. The nose of the board banged against my ankles. I grabbed it as the whole thing collapsed.
“Next time,” he said, bobbing fifteen yards away, me holding his board, “It’s your head.”
Still, he nodded, somewhat gratefully, as I pushed his board toward him.
Being twenty-two years old, I didn’t weaken when he and his several friends looked over at me as if I might just give in and go in. Nope. A bit later, the sun setting and the crowd thinning, I was paddling for a wave with the same guy who had threatened me. He was on the peak side. I paddled him even closer, waited until the last second, jumped up, turned. He went over the falls.
This time his board washed all the way in. We looked at each other. He smiled. When he paddled back out, he said, “Look, I’m a goofyfoot. If you want all the rights, fine; I’ll take the lefts.”
“Deal.” Still, he left the water after one more wave, gave me a little wave in passing.
Forty years later, I’m still prowling. I won’t take off in front of you… unless I have to.
No, I don’t have to.

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